Did everyone have a good Eid? Ate too much? Regained whatever pounds you’d shed during Ramadhan? Congratulations, you’re one of many.
Many of us also took the time to travel. I spent my Eid with my family across town, but hitting the road with Dad after the seemingly endless family reunions were finally over. In a few days we were lucky to explore Garut and Tasikmalaya, growing cities just a couple of hours from West Java’s capital Bandung, half a day from Jakarta.
Road trip is always fun when the stops bring out something different from your humdrum life. Dad mentioned about a small village in Tasikmalaya that shuns electricity and modern amenities, so after staying overnight in Garut’s most famed lake village Sampireun, and had goat meat stew for breakfast (don’t ask), we headed further on the Nagrek passage. I’m glad we made that trip.
Kampung Naga is actually not too far from civilization. Nestled on a valley along a busy intra-city passage, unlike the Baduy where you’d have to trek much further inland. The only challenge to reach it is the 400-plus steps down the valley sans handrail. When you finally reach the bottom, as most visitors do, you’ll see a small dam on your right—the last modern fixture before entering the village. The fixture that, as the village leader rather begrudgingly remarked, was imposed by the Government to help irrigating farms.
Yes, Kampung Naga villagers are too happy to use their own hands, plus a little help from buffalos, in plowing, seeding and harvesting their rice fields twice a year. Neither do modern tools employed in fishing or raising livestock. The only source of energy in the entire 113 stilt wooden houses and huts is kerosene-fueled lanterns, while cooking is done over stone burner lit by chopped woods. Judging from the hearty lunch served to us that day, where I feasted shamelessly, the organic farming and fishery have done wondrously. My third helping was solely to savor their mouthwatering nasi liwet (rice seasoned with lemongrass, turmeric, ginger, and Indonesian bay leaves) with tasty fish crackers. Thank God I ate three plateful since the 439, or was it 453, steps all the way to the top awaited us afterward.
Panting breathlessly, we managed to stop by a small kiosk on the top to purchase Kampung Naga’s organic rice. I read the label and that’s when it struck me—for all the shunning of modern gears and resources, the villagers aren’t exactly behind modern thinking. The rice bags are packed adequately and labeled with sufficient information including the farmers co-op’s contacts for placing orders, though the village leaders gently reminded me that as farming was done organically they might not be able to handle large standing orders.
Be that as it may, yet Kampung Naga is already a step ahead of similar villages I’ve been. Not only their heritage living is self-sufficient, their products happen to match the growing modern market of organic-based lifestyle. Besides us there was a busload of foreign tourists that day trekking up and down the village and charmed by the organic farming, animal husbandry, and sugar-making.
It’s very different than, let’s say, Desa Sade in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, where I revisited earlier this year. There doesn’t seem to be any sustainable economic activities stemming organically from their traditional lifestyle, which was probably why, especially when compared to my first visit in 2004, originality was almost gone while progress was hardly noticeable as the village was littered with plastic trash, animal droppings, teen moms, and stalls peddling general Lombok souvenirs not exactly native to the village. Desa Sade now looks like some gaunt, old doll covered in kitschy tribal getups preserved just so tourists would still swing by, while Kampung Naga retains its self-sufficient lifestyle for natives that, as a result, draws outsiders.
Were there not souvenir stalls in Kampung Naga? Sure, I saw two. But they sell self-resourced knickknacks without telltale touristy traps, something they do on the side to appease a visitor or two. I bought a cute miniature stilt house for Rp 50,000 near some kids crafting kites with their moms yelling them not to fly the kites later on newly-seeded fields.
I’m no social scientist but I suspect it may have something to do with education. Kampung Naga has no schools but kids are free to pursue education outside the village—which, by the way, should make them potential athletes what with trekking up and down those steps daily. A lady manning a kiosk upstairs even mentioned that a grown-up Kampung Naga boy works overseas. Desa Sade, conversely, forbids girls to pursue education outside while the village only has an elementary school.
Again and again, at the end of the day, what primarily matters is how one can provide for oneself and one’s family. And what can pivotally change how one provides for the better, as I keep discovering, is education. Not everyone has to be an urbanite—one can choose to live traditionally, provincially, even reclusively. But what one cannot afford to shun is education. You walk away from education, you get marginalized from the civilization. Perpetually, lost is an entire generation. The different tales of Kampung Naga and Desa Sade may just be another glaring proof.